The Illinois State Board of Education has approved adding $5.6 million more to the state education budget — money that the new superintendent says will help combat the teacher shortage and overhaul a complicated system of assessments.
The board on Wednesday signed onto recommendations from the state school Superintendent Carmen Ayala that signal her priorities, outlined in the first budget proposal she’s submitted since her appointment last month.
The proposal bumps up the state board’s request for the next fiscal year to $5.6 million more than Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s laid out last month as part of his $12 billion ask for schools next year — a pot of money that includes state and federal funds. The addition comes to about 5 one-hundreths of a percent increase.
The next step is for the Illinois General Assembly to consider and vote on the governor’s budget.
Here’s how Ayala wants to use the additional general fund dollars:
$2.4 million to address the state’s teacher shortage
Last year, 1,400 Illinois teaching jobs remained unfilled. The new funding would provide grants for individuals, districts, and innovative teacher-training programs to help prepare more teachers.
In a policy report released last fall, Teach Illinois found that relying on traditional teacher-preparation programs, such as those at colleges, to train new teachers wasn’t enough. In fact, the statewide percentage of candidates completing teacher prep programs fell by half between 2000 and 2016.
The report, commissioned by the state board in partnership with the Joyce Foundation, recommended finding new ways to bring teachers into the profession. Among the suggestions: Develop a clearer way to judge the skills of teachers from a variety of colleges or alternative certification programs, and roll out a statewide marketing campaign to tout the benefits of a career in teaching.
$3 million to study Illinois state assessments
Under Illinois’ Every Student Succeeds Act plan, which establishes metrics to measure school achievement and to help underperforming schools, the state uses a series of tests to assess students and schools.
What’s offered varies by district. The state’s required tests start in third grade with the Illinois Assessment of Readiness, which replaced the PARCC, that is used through eighth grade, said Robert Wolfe, the state’s chief financial officer. Then, in high school, the state requires the PSAT for two years, followed by the SAT for one year.
The state’s efforts to create a new test to replace the PARCC ran into trouble when the previous vendor contested the contract. Illinois repackaged the PARCC for spring testing with a new name, a shorter testing time, and most of the same questions. Parent groups nicknamed the new test the “Zombie PARCC.”
The $3 million would go toward studying and streamlining the various metrics.
$1 million in additional support for struggling schools
As part of Illinois’ new school accountability system, struggling schools designated as “underperforming” or “lowest performing” on the Illinois Schools Report Card are eligible for additional state money to fund approved improvement plans. The state education board sent Chicago $27.5 million this year to support about 300 of the district’s most struggling schools.
The state board wants to add $1 million for promised support statewide for school improvement programs.